Fire chief warns of treading on thin ice

By Joe Beck

Chief Richard E. Mabie of the Warren County Fire and Rescue Services has a simple message for anyone tempted to venture out onto the frozen Shenandoah River or other waterway: Don’t do it.

Mabie said Tuesday the fluctuating temperatures of the last week and a forecast for more of the same during the remainder of the week has him worried that someone will fall through thin ice.

“You can just look at the river from the bridges and see the different layers of ice,” Mabie said.

People should wait until the ice is at least 3 inches thick before venturing out onto a pond or river, Mabie said.

The dangers of thin ice are usually more of a problem in West Virginia and the western suburbs of Washington, D.C. but this year is different, Mabie said.

“We haven’t seen the river frozen like this for several years,” Mabie said. “That’s what brought this back to the surface.”

The thickness of ice needed to support the weight of an average person may depend on several factors. They include the age of the ice and how temperature changes have affected it, snow accumulation that may insulate and warm the ice, the size of the body of water, and whether an air space has formed between the ice and free flowing water beneath it.

Mabie said the different layers of ice on the Shenandoah River come from water flowing below the surface.

“With different layers like that, it’s not as solid as people think,” Mabie said.

He warned that hypothermia can quickly overtake someone who falls through the ice. Vicitms have a hard time pulling themselves out of the water after they have fallen through and may be dragged downstream below the ice if they have fallen into a river.

Mabie said bystanders should resist the temptation to venture onto thin ice and try to rescue someone who has fallen through. He said witnesses to such incidents should call 911 and await rescuers with the proper equipment and training to save someone who has fallen through the ice.

Witnesses may be able to save someone if they can stay on shore and use ropes, ladders and other devices to extend their ability to reach the victim.

Those who suddenly discover themselves on a patch of weak ice should lie down, spread their weight over a large area, lie still if possible and wait for help, Mabie said. Those not expecting help should move gently back toward the shore while remaining in a position to distribute their weight over the surface as they move.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com